In Jojo Rabbit, Hitler isn’t so much preoccupied with the invasion of Poland as he is by the size of his pants. “I’m not sure about the hips on these, should they be bigger?” he asks. In director Taika Waititi’s hands, the dictator appears as a figment of a German boy’s imagination, boosting the child’s morale, unhelpfully offering him cigarettes when times are tough and coming up with harebrained schemes such as creating a pit filled with “piranhas and bacon” for Jews to fall into. He’s drop-kicked out of a window by the end, symbolizing the boy’s renouncement of the Nazi belief system.
Films in which the Führer is used as comic relief have been around since World War 2 itself. Short propaganda film The Devil With Hitler (1942) sees the Devil trying to get the dictator to commit a single good deed. Since then, he’s appeared as a French maid in Adam Sandler comedy Little Nicky (2000), the bumbling criminal ‘Kung Fuhrer’ in short film Kung Fury (2015) and an actor playing him gets punched in the face as part of a skit in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Jojo Rabbit, the latest film to poke fun at Hitler, does so early on, using footage of Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous Triumph of the Will documentary set to The Beatles’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ to draw comparisons between Nazism and Beatlemania.
Footage of real-life nationalist demonstrations is also part of German production Look Who’s Back (2015), where it’s used for ominous rather than comedic effect. The film envisions a time-travelling Hitler as a fish out of water in today’s times. He attempts to drop off his uniform at a laundromat, is disgusted by modern reality TV and has a ball discovering equally racist members of society. At one point, he puts his famed art skills to work by selling caricatures on the sidewalk. Mistaken for a Hitler impersonator, he gets his own television show, which becomes a massive success. His burgeoning popularity and the rise of nationalism make his political comeback chillingly certain by the end.
The last act of Charlie Chaplin’s Oscar-nominated The Great Dictator (1940) takes the film from parody to profound. Chaplin plays dictator ‘Adenoid Hynkel’ and his doppelganger, a Jewish barber, in this film in which Goebbels becomes Garbitsch and Mussolini becomes Napolini. Much of the movie relies on physical comedy – a general bowing to the hilariously insecure and short-fused Hitler headbutts him instead, another accidentally pushes him down the stairs at a public event and there’s a sequence in which he and rival Napaloni go on alternately increasing the heights of their chairs at the barber, almost hitting the ceiling in an attempt to assert dominance. When Hynkel and the barber happen to swap places, however, the latter uses the opportunity to make an earnest plea for peace.
Mel Brooks too uses Hitler as the punchline as several of his movies. “If you stand on a soapbox and trade rhetoric with a dictator, you never win. That’s what they do so well: they seduce people. But if you ridicule them, bring them down with laughter, they can’t win. You show how crazy they are,” said the director of his philosophy. In his 1968 Academy Award-winning comedy The Producers and its 2005 remake, Hitler gets the Broadway treatment. Realising there’s more money to be made from a flop than a hit, a producer and an accountant decide to put on “a disaster, a catastrophe, an outrage, a guaranteed-to-close-in-one-night beauty” titled Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden. The opening number, a mishmash of culturally offensive costumes and Nazi propaganda, (“Don’t be stupid, be a smarty! Come and join the Nazi party!”) horrifies the audience at first, but Hitler, played by a flamboyant, brain-damaged hippie wearing a single dangly gold earring, leads them to assume the play is satirical. It of course becomes a smash hit.
Hitler takes to the stage once more in the Brooks-produced To Be Or Not To Be (1983). “A little piece of Poland, a little piece of France, a little piece of Portugal. And Austria, perchance?” sings the character in a play called Naughty Nazis. He also briefly shows up as an ice-skater in Brooks’ History Of The World (1981).
Absurdity has no bounds in Russian film Gitler Kaput! (2008) in which Nazi battles double up as dance numbers and covert operations are set to Britney Spears’ ‘Oops I Did It Again’. It paints Hitler as a nervous, insecure wreck who has a personal DJ named ’50 Shillings’, a miniature of himself that dispenses a cocaine through the mouth and a penchant for ballet.